Another Analysis of Punting on 4th Down

Author: Ray Hall

Yes, I know, this has been tried a few times and no one listens…. At least not yet. Despite several studies showing otherwise, teams still punt more than they should. Admittedly, some of these studies have been less than rigorous, and often times, assumptions are made that warrant scrutiny (assuming a 50% success rate on all 4th down attempts for example). But I don’t think it is the lack of scientific rigor that keeps change at bay. I think the failure to adopt a novel strategy has a lot more to do with the comfort that accompanies doing whatever is generally accepted as “the way to do it.”

If a coach fails doing it the same way everyone else does it, he has cover. If a coach adopts a novel strategy, even if he fails less, he will be judged harshly for those failures (more so than for failing the “right way”). It’s not until somebody comes along who has the courage to implement a novel approach AND the patience and support to allow that approach time to succeed, can the “way to do it” change.

Having said all of that, I am giving this punting thing another go. Maybe the right person is listening, but probably not. Personally, I don’t care. I love analytics in part as a way of changing minds, but mostly just to satisfy my own curiosity about things. 

You can find my work here. I outline why my approach differs from others in the article, but probably the biggest difference is the way I expanded my data-set to incorporate “do-or-die” third downs as an analog for 4th down. If you are an NFL coach, please read on. If you are just curious like me, I hope you find my work interesting.

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